New Diet Craze: What are Skinny Carbs?

A "skinny carb" diet is one that emphasizes eating plenty of resistant starch foods. But what exactly is a resistant starch food? And how might it help you shed the pounds?

Unlike most starchy carbohydrates , which the small intestine rapidly breaks down and converts to glucose, resistant starch foods escape quick digestion. They pass through the small intestine unaltered and go on to the large intestine, where they're processed as dietary fiber.

This means resistant starch foods do not provide immediate boosts of energy; rather, they increase overall health by easing the pace of digestion, regulating bowel movements, producing a sense of fullness and helping to burn fat. The Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the National Academy of Sciences all consider resistant starch to be a beneficial carbohydrate.

Resistant starch is present in foods such as raw banana, whole-grain bread, navy beans, oatmeal, barley, cold pasta and lentils. Several manmade resistant starch foods exist as well, such as BarleyMax a hybrid variety of barley specifically bred to provide bowel and intestinal health. The Skinny Carbs Diet by David Feder, RD (Rodale Books, 2010) includes 150 recipes using all of these ingredients and more.

According to a 2004 study by nutritionist Janine Higgins and her colleagues at University of Colorado, which examined the results of several studies on this topic, resistant starch intake seems to decrease post-meal glycemic and insulinemic responses, lower the concentration of fats and cholesterol in the blood, improve whole body insulin sensitivity, increase satiety, and reduce fat storage. These properties make resistant starches an attractive dietary target for the prevention of diseases associated with insulin resistance and having abnormally high levels of fat in the blood, as well as the development of weight loss diets and dietary therapies for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

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Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.